Last week, our friends at Faura hosted an interactive salon with Azeem Azhar, an award-winning journalist, futurist, entrepreneur, strategist, investor, and host of the Exponential View podcast (distributed by the Harvard Business Review). He talked about how technology shapes, destroys, and rebuilds our societies — and what current trends reveal about where we’re headed. We’ll give a quick recap of his talk first, then snatch the mic and share our own two(-plus) cents. ‘Cause that’s why you’re reading this, right?
Tech Shapes the Social Fabric of Our World, a *Lot*
A hundred years ago, the internal combustion engine, telephone, and electricity changed our world in profound ways. You don’t even have to look up from your phone to see an example of how these three salient technologies continue to play a major role in our lives.
Azeem’s thesis (and the topic he explores in his upcoming book, The Exponential Age, which we 100% encourage you to pre-order ASAP) is that we’re currently living in the (you guessed it) Exponential Age, in which several new technologies are transforming industry and society the same way the Big 3 above did 100 years ago.
Except these new technologies are improving at exponential rates — i.e., they’re getting cheaper to buy/produce every year, becoming absorbed by corporations more quickly, and having a much bigger impact on just about everything in our lives as a result.
Sh*t’s changing so fast, in fact, that our laws, social norms/conventions, and other institutions are playing a losing game of catch-up. (Azeem calls this the Exponential Gap.)
…and faster…and faster. As much as the exponential growth of key technologies does have positive effects on our lives (for instance, it made the fast COVID vaccine rollout possible), many of us can probably relate more to the anxieties it’s created.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of these anxieties are related to work. A survey from January 2021 revealed that 84% of Americans were feeling prolonged stress, which isn’t all that surprising considering the pandemic + national political unrest + continued spikes in racist attacks, among other stressors.
But it’s likely that a significant part of that number was also tied to increased remote work burnout for WFH employees, job insecurity for many essential workers, and the general exhaustion of being online 24/7. Because even though the Exponential Age made it possible for us to communicate in real-time via digital tools during the height of lockdown, it also propelled Zoom fatigue, touch starvation, and reported loneliness and depression, particularly in individuals between the ages of 18 and 25.
Our dependence on social media over the past year to stay in touch with friends, family, and the world at large has also revealed troubling things about the nature of our algorithmic experiences, underscoring the toxicity of performative social justice/virtue signalling among individuals and corporations as well as cocooning us in echo-chambers of targeted (and sometimes misinformed) content that shutters us from other conversations and realities. (Who else tuned in to “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix last year?)
We could go on and on — about hiring bias in digital platforms, panic about AI taking over certain jobs (and what this means for non-STEM majors and the choices people make about higher education), the risks to freedom that increased surveillance poses...but you get the picture, right?
We’re not cynics (at least, not after our morning coffee). The point we’re trying to make is that the Exponential Age (and other things, like neoliberalism) is creating simultaneous realities that have profound consequences, bad and good.
Because the truth is that we’re seeing a new crop of passionate, outspoken thinkers, leaders, and brands trying to course-correct and hold our systems of power accountable. Who are investing in renewable energy, creating demand for eco-friendly foods and products, and taking the lead on shaping how we take care of ourselves, our society, and our planet (just think — the people who will be shaping the economy over the next decade are between 15 and 25 right now). So all in all, we feel quite hopeful for the future, and we’ll leave you with some hopeful facts from Azeem’s talk to round things out.
(Though, if you have the time, we think it’s worth checking out the entire recording to experience all the charts, graphs, witticisms, and funny James Bond references Azeem used to back his arguments up. Plus, we can’t do his unexaggerated brilliance justice here.)